Sunday, September 21, 2014

WHY I HAVE A BEARD – Humor in Uniform


Harking Back to My Glorious Navy Days

If you are an unemployed unwanted uncelebrated “retired” military veteran like me, what is the best thing to do?


Yes, I can hark back in time and reminisce – and I can talk about my “good old navy days”.

But what do I do if there is no one to talk to?

I can write about my unforgettable reminiscences.

Well, that is exactly what I am going to do now.

I will hark back 37 years, take you back to the latter half of the 1970’s, and tell you why, thanks to the Navy, I grew my handsome beard, which adorns my face till today.

By the way, if I had not joined the Navy, I probably would not have kept a beard.

Yes, before I joined the Navy, I was clean shaven, and I had never contemplated having a beard.

But then when you join the Navy, everything changes – and you change – whether it is for the better or for the worse – well, that depends on you!

I remember my first day at the Naval Academy in Cochin (now called Kochi).

The moment we reported, an army of barbers descended on us to chop off our hair and shave or faces – we were given crew cuts and our faces shaven clean.

A few young men did have moustaches, but these moustaches were ruthlessly removed.

At the Naval Academy, all trainees had to be “clean shaven”.


Dear Reader – before I proceed further with my story, let me digress, and tell you a bit about the navy tradition of sailors keeping beards.

After independence, we imbibed our military traditions from our erstwhile rulers – the British – and accordingly our Navy adopted the customs and traditions of the Royal Navy.

Hence, even on the subject of moustaches and beards, the Indian Navy had adopted, verbatim, the regulations of the British Navy, which required that a naval officer or sailor had either to have both beard and moustache or neither.

This means that you had to have a “full-set beard” (a full beard and moustache).

The beard must be complete, joined from sideburns, covering the entire jaw-line and chin, and joining the moustache.

A Navy Officer or Sailor had to have a “full-set beard” or nothing.

A moustache on its own was not permitted.

You were required to obtain the approval of your Commanding Officer to “discontinue shaving” or to “continue shaving” every time you wanted to change your appearance.

If you wanted to grow a beard, you had to put in a request to stop shaving – yes, you had to formally seek permission to “cease shaving”.

If your request was granted, you were allowed three weeks (21 days) to grow your beard.

During this time of 21 days, as the beard grew, the beard grower was not permitted to go ashore or to be seen in public until the Commanding Officer felt that the beard was fit for public viewing.

A Naval Officer or Sailor was required to have a rugged, “full set”, masculine looking, well-developed beard which gave you a macho appearance.

Wispy or wimpy looking beards were not allowed, and “designer stubble” was certainly not permitted.

If the Commanding Officer (Captain) approved of your beard, you were allowed to keep it.

But if your Commanding Officer deemed your beard unworthy of a seaman, you were ordered to “shave off” your beard.

Suppose you were allowed to have a beard, and you kept the beard for a few years, but later, if you wanted to shave off your beard, you had to seek permission to “start shaving”.

Beards were not permitted in the Army and Air Force – but you were allowed to keep moustaches.

Yes, if you are in the army or air force, you can either keep your face clean shaven or you can keep a moustache (without a beard).

I am sure the Army and Air Force have regulations governing moustaches which specify the types of moustaches permitted, sizes, shapes, styles etc.

But I have seen that the Air Force has a fondness for handlebar moustaches, and so do some Artillery Officers.


Sometime in the 1970’s, due to pressures from youngsters and to be in sync with prevailing customs, the Indian Navy relaxed the provisions governing wearing of moustaches and beards.

The regulations were amended so that, now, the issue of permitting “moustaches without beards” was left to the Commanding Officer’s discretion.

Now, the Captain may permit officers and sailors to wear moustaches and beards or shave them off, if they so desire. Moustaches and beard shall be worn with or without the beard and moustaches respectively. Side whiskers shall be permitted down to the level of the lobe of the ear. Moustaches, beard and whiskers shall be neatly cut and trimmed. The privilege may be withdrawn in cases of untidy growth.

This relaxation has resulted in many navy youngsters sporting moustaches (of course, the seasoned sea-dogs preferred “full-set” beards).


After completing our basic naval training, we were sent for our specialization course.

As I told you earlier, consequent to the relaxation of “appearance” regulations, a few young officers had started sporting moustaches, and I too felt like having a moustache.

So, the moment we reported for the specialization course, I applied for permission to grow a moustache.

The Commanding Officer refused permission.

I protested to my training officer, but he showed me the regulations – granting permission for moustache was the Commanding Officer’s prerogative.

“Sir, suppose I seek permission to grow a beard?” I asked.

“If you apply for permission to grow a beard, he will have to grant you permission, at least for three weeks,” the Training Officer said.

My request to “cease shaving” was promptly granted.

I stopped shaving, and my beard started to grow.

Around 15 days later, during Friday divisions (parade), the Commanding Officer, who was inspecting the Under Trainee Officers Division, suddenly stopped before me.

He looked at my face, as if scrutinizing it, and said, “You look good in a beard. Your beard suits you. Keep it.”

This happened more than 36 years ago, and soon my beloved beard will be celebrating its 37th birthday.

Quite funny, isn’t it – I wanted to grow a moustache, but, thanks to quirks of the navy, I landed up growing a beard instead.

But once I grew my beard, I started liking my beard, and soon my beard became so sacrosanct to me, that I never shaved it off.

I love my beard.

My beard has been my loyal companion throughout my entire naval career and now my beard is my faithful friend in my lonely retirement days

I am proud of my beard.

I am glad I have a beard.

In hindsight, I do not know whether joining the Navy was good for me, or whether I would have done better in the “civvy street”.

But one thing is sure.

I owe my beard to the Navy.

Had it not been for the Navy, I may not have kept a beard.

And as I write this, from time to time, I lovingly caress my lovely beard. 


In conclusion, let me give you 3 quotes on beards:

A woman with a beard looks like a man, a man without a beard looks like a woman
~ Afghan saying

There are two kinds of people in this world that go around beardless – boys and women – and I am neither one
~ Greek saying

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man
~ William Shakespeare

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All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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